Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Arrogance of American Public Education

Today a member of my PLN posted this picture on Facebook:

The sad fact is that our schools are designed for students who listen well, comply with authority, have no urge to think for themselves, don't question the bias of information being given to them, have no desire to experiment, and learn at exactly the pace that we teach. 

If they learn too quickly, we force them to sit quietly (often bored out of their minds) while the rest catch up with them. 

If they learn too slowly, refuse to buy into the factory model of the 1900's that we force upon them, are interested in the arts more than standardized test prep, or prefer to learn while doing instead of listening, we label them as "learning disabled."  Often we medicate them to make them more compliant to our methodology.

Maybe we need to start teaching differently.   
Maybe our students have realized something that we have yet to discover.
Maybe we have a collective teaching disability and are too arrogant to change ourselves. 

After all, if our job is to educate and our students aren't learning, are we doing our jobs?  

9 comments:

  1. I could not agree more. If our focus was on learning not teaching, learning not education, learning not reform, what a difference it would make. I saw a bumper sticker the other day, "learning is natural school is optional." It made me smile.

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  2. I've got a new student, a bit behind in ed tech, so I'm trying to catch him up and he constantly apologizes to me for not "getting it." My comeback: "This is what I do for you--it's my job. If you don't get it, don't apologize. It's my fault for not explaining it in a way you can understand. But it's not your fault, it's mine, and we'll keep at it until you do get it." I wish I could get teachers to understand that the education experiment is an ongoing process that has NOT been perfected and we must reach the students and quit giving up when they don't learn it the first time.
    Thanks for your encouragement with this writing! An affirmation that I needed to hear to keep on keeping on.

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  3. Beth,
    I totally agree that the "Ed Reform Movement" is a labor discussion and has nothing to do with teaching. We need a teaching reform movement where we discuss pedagogy and learning. Thanks for commenting!

    lkjohnson,
    Your open-mindedness and willingness to reflect are what we need more of in our schools. You are exactly correct that the process will never be perfected. The moment we allow ourselves to believe we don't need to change we become outdated and make what we are selling in schools less relevant to our students. Thank you for your comment (and for RT).

    -Mike

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  4. A wise mentor once told me "Assume they know nothing, but they can learn anything." The same mentor used to say "If the teacher teaches the same thing 10 times and the child still doesn't get it, it's not the child who is lacking."

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  5. Daisy,
    A wise mentor indeed. Thanks for sharing!
    -Mike

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  6. Excellent post, Mike.

    In many cases, we do need to teach differently, but we also need to help students become empowered learners in the school setting. Kids who have struggled in our current model have become passive objects with various adults working very hard to fix them. In some ways we create learning disabilities by smothering the learning spirit in a child.

    I believe there's a way to design standards-based learning opportunities that incorporate student choice and encourage curiosity. If we do that well, students will do fine (enough) on accountability tests and will increase capacity to be successful in whatever they do.

    A standard assessment does not require a standard, lock-step approach to designing learning opportunities for kids. We teachers need to get out of the box and take some risks. The stakes are too high to wait for the accountability pendulum to swing in our favor.

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  7. johnpassantino,
    Thank you for your excellent comment! I agree that any of us waiting for the pendulum to swing is not an option. Individually there are many teachers doing a great job individualizing and creating a dynamic environment for their students, expecting all teachers to take that leap of faith while faced with the punitive consequences of standards-based tests is too much to ask of an educational system. Risk taking won't happen when the consequences of failure are loss of pay or termination.
    -Mike

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  8. Great post. The majority of teachers I've worked with in the last 15 years have fantastic ideas to make their classrooms more creative and exciting. Now how can we get our politicians and administrators to ALLOW us to teach differently instead of to their standardized tests?

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  9. Kaleroy,
    I too have seen many teachers with great ideas that they are forced to put on the shelf because of the restrictions placed upon us. What scares me most is that the anyone hired in the past 10 years, or those training to be teachers know nothing other than the system we have in place now. Reading from a teacher's manual is becoming accepted as "good teaching." Every year we go further down this path makes it that much harder to reverse the trend. Thanks for a great comment!
    -Mike

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